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Yes, there is a case of bubonic plague in China. No, it's not something to worry about.

The man in Mongolia is said to be in a stable condition in hospital.

Plague doctors wore a distinctive costume during the Black Death.
Plague doctors wore a distinctive costume during the Black Death.
Image: Shutterstock

THE WORLD HEALTH Organization has said today that it is monitoring a case of bubonic plague in China after being notified by the authorities in Beijing.

A herdsman in China’s northern Inner Mongolia region was confirmed at the weekend to have the bubonic plague.

Two other cases were confirmed in Khovd province in neighbouring Mongolia last week involving brothers who had eaten marmot meat, China’s state news agency Xinhua said.

Some 146 people who came into contact with the pair have been quarantined.

The WHO has said it is working in partnership with the Chinese and Mongolian authorities, adding that sporadic cases of plague have been reported in China over the last decade. 

Is bubonic plague ‘The Plague’?

Plague is an infectious disease that affects rodents, certain other animals, and humans. It is caused by the Yersinia pestis bacteria. People most commonly acquire plague when they are bitten by a flea that is infected with the plague bacteria.

There are three different forms of the plague: Bubonic plague, septicemic plague and pneumonic plague.

Each of the three have similar symptoms but they differ in their seriousness and transmissibility. Usually, those infected will experience headache, chills and weakness and one or more swollen, tender and painful lymph nodes.

Without treatment, 50–60% of cases of bubonic plague are fatal, while untreated septicaemic and pneumonic plague are invariably fatal. 

Pneumonic plague is the most serious form of the disease and leads to rapidly developing pneumonia with a shortness of breath that can prove fatal in 24 to 72 hours. 

Pneumonic plague is the only form of plague that can be spread from person to person, something that takes place by way of infected droplets. 

The Yersinia pestis bacteria causes all types of plague but bubonic plague is the most common of the three, yet it itself is relatively rare.  

“Plague is rare, typically found in selected geographical areas across the globe where it is still endemic,” the WHO said today.

Bubonic plague is the most common form and is transmitted between animals and humans through the bite of infected fleas and direct contact with carcases of infected small animals. It is not easily transmitted between people.”

shutterstock_8264356 A Mongolian marmot. Source: Shutterstock

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Can plague be treated? 

Yes, plague is fully treatable with antibiotics and once it’s diagnosed and treated patients generally make a full recovery.

The man at the centre of the currently reported case in Inner Mongolia is said to be in a stable condition in hospital.

“Bubonic plague has been with us and is always with us, for centuries,” WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris told reporters at a virtual briefing today.

“We are looking at the case numbers in China. It’s being well managed. At the moment, we are not considering it high-risk but we’re watching it, monitoring it carefully.”

Though the plague is rare in China and can be treated, at least five people have died from it since 2014, according to China’s National Health Commission.

Last year a Mongolian couple died from bubonic plague, also after eating marmot meat

© – AFP 2020 with reporting by Rónán Duffy

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